Friday, August 18, 2017

Man's Best Friend

Man’s Best Friend
John Lafia

After an opening credit sequence that is strangely evocative of the one from Cheers, we meet Judy (Robin Frates) and Lori (Ally Sheedy), bored employees at a television news show. They are following a lead from a woman who works at a place called EMAX. The lead claims horrifying animal experiments are occurring there. After breaking in, Lori befriends Max, a large canine test subject. She ends up taking Max home after a narrow escape from the lab. Max’s creator Dr. Jarret (Lance Henriksen) hunts for his creation. Max is no ordinary dog, he’s genetically modified and super intelligent. What’s worse, the drug keeping him stable is wearing off and soon he could become an unstoppable killer.

It was a cat in dogsuit all along!
Horror-comedy is a difficult balance to strike, and Man’s Best Friend spends most of its time flailing around looking for a tone. For two-thirds of its length, the movie tries its best to work as a dark comedy by taking commonplace and clich├ęd dog tropes and pushing them just slightly into horror territory. Max doesn’t just bite the mailman, he shakes off a blast of mace, promptly chases the poor guy down and tears his throat out. A chance encounter with a cat results not in only Max climbing a tree after it, but also swallowing it whole. The problem is that none of this is ever particularly funny or frightening. Strangely, if you removed the more overt horror and sex from this film it would not be out of place in the slurry of direct to video animal based kid’s movies that infest Redbox and Netflix.

Although gifted with a great cast, Man’s Best Friend does not offer anyone to root for. Max is played as a sympathetic beast to a point, but he’s also a ruthless predator who is happy to kill innocent people and animals.  Ally Sheedy’s Lori is meant to be the central protagonist, but she is sidelined for large portions of the story. By the end, she has little to do but react to the mayhem around her. Lance Henriksen is always a magnetic presence on screen, and his morally compromised scientist is the most interesting of the lot, but ultimately, he is just a cold-hearted villain chasing a dog around with a gun. Even William Sanders makes a brief appearance as a seemingly sympathetic junkyard proprietor who turns out to be an awful animal abuser.

The appearance of the film is unremarkable; it looks like most mid-budget horror films from the early 1990s. The special effects work well enough, save for one embarrassing green screen stunt involving Max leaping between two cars. This isn’t an excessively violent movie. Despite what the cover would have you believe, Max doesn’t sport a Terminator (1984) style endoskeleton beneath his fur, but he does manage to steal a gimmick from Predator (1987).

Man’s Best Friend is watchable, but only just so. It is never funny, gross, or weird enough to catch your attention or demand much reconsideration after the credits have ended.

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